The Gift of Writing for Kids—Bruce Coville Book Giveaway

So, this past weekend, I headed up to Sacramento for the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference. Which ROCKED. I may do another post this week telling more about it, along with perhaps a few car photos from my research trip, but what I wanted to talk about this morning was Bruce Coville‘s talk. Or part of it.

The part where he talked about why we write for kids. (Hint: It’s not the money.)

Slight detour first. I am very clear, personally, on why I write for kids and teens. Yes, I hope that they’ll read and love my books; yes, I think about them as the audience while I’m writing; yes, I try and figure out the best way to make my story connect with their world. But the full truth is that I do this writing…for me. I write because I need to, because I love the way it feels when words come off my fingers onto the keyboard. I write specifically for kids and teens because those are my favorite books to read, because the “club” I most want to belong to is the one whose members are the authors whose books I devoured as a kid. I admit it–I write for very selfish reasons.

I hear so many people talk about the book that most impacted them, the book where they first recognized themselves or the one that changed the way they saw the world. Honestly, I don’t have one of those. Every book that has hit me strongly as a child, as a teen, as an adult has hit me as an author. As in, WOW–look at the characters this writer created. Look at the way they built that world. Look at how they made me cry. Look at the flow of the prose. The books that are listed in my head as the most important are the ones that just made me–even more than before–want to be a writer. While I may have loved their content, the content is not what hit my life–it was and has always been about the writing.

But Bruce said something in his keynote that made me start thinking. And the basic thread is one we’ve all heard before, but it struck a chord for me Saturday. He basically created a picture, onstage in front of us, of The Kid who has just discovered reading. The one who has found THE BOOK (whether it be about content or prose) that, for him or her, has just opened up an entirely new world–the world of stories on a page. I don’t remember what that book was for me. The story goes that my big sister came home from first grade. played School with me, and taught me to read. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that my favorite thing in the world was to curl up with a book. I don’t remember the magic of discovering that feeling.

I do, though, know what that magic looks like on the face of another child. I know what it looked like on my son’s face; I know what it looked like on the faces of his young schoolmates, and I know what it looks like on the face of the boy or girl sitting on the floor of the bookstore or library, oblivious to everything that is going on around them.

I’m writing a picture book. I’m not sure whether or not a picture book can, by itself, create this magic–because they are so often part of cuddling with Mom and Dad, a grandparent, a teacher, an older sibling, a babysitter. I’m not sure whether or not this magic can be created with anyone else there, or if it is a simple, pure communion between a child and the book (and, yes, I think an e-reader qualifies!). What I think may be true is that there is an age-range, or reading-range, where the magic happens, and that it does fall somewhere between picture books and MG novels. Between the time the child starts to love stories and the time when they have already become book addicts and are now adding books and hours to their habit. I’m not sure if/when I will write a story that falls into that range, but I think–after this conference–that it must be a goal to think about.

I don’t know if Bruce Coville was the one who created that magic for my son. It may have been Bill Watterson, because the first time my son asked if he could read in bed before turning out the light, it was so he could lie there and “read” Calvin and Hobbes by himself. It may have been Roald Dahl. It may have been any one of the authors he loved when he was young. What I do know, and remember, is the click I heard in his reading world when he found Bruce Coville’s books. These were some of the first books I got him that were by an author I hadn’t read, didn’t know about. They were if not the first, some of the first, science-fiction stories he read. They were some of the first books that I picked up to read to myself, because my son loved them so much. My son’s favorites, and mine, were the Sixth-Grade Alien series, with Tim and Pleskitt as best friends. And then, of course, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, because…hey, it had a dragon. And a disappearing magic shop. And lots more.

They didn’t have any of the Pleskitt books at the conference bookstore. They did have another favoriteThe Monster’s Ring, which I think has the (very brief) scariest moment I remember reading in any of Bruce Coville’s book. I bought a copy, and I asked Mr. Coville to sign it (with, I hope, a minimum of gushing). And I’m giving that book away here.

I’d like to give it away to someone with a child, or who knows a child, that hasn’t read Coville’s books yet. I’d like to send this book off somewhere to a boy or girl who might not yet have fallen in love with books, or not yet found their stories. I’m not going to ask any of you to pass a test for the giveaway, or prove that you know the perfect recipient. If you just love these books yourself and absolutely need a copy, then go for it. If your son or daughter had this book and something happened to it, or they just can’t speak at the thought of having a copy with Bruce Coville’s signature on it, I totally get that, and they should get a chance to have that! But if you think around your world, and you know a kid who needs to find their book, who wants to love reading but hasn’t quite got there yet, then–please–enter. I want this giveaway to send a little bit of that magic into the world.

So…all you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment below. But if you’ve got a story to share about your book, the one that grabbed you as a child and made you a reader, or the one that did that for one of your own kids, a student, whoever–I’d love to hear that, too.

I’ll run this contest for a week, and I’ll draw one random winner next Monday, April 11th. Feel free to spread the word!

The Sneakiness of Book Sharing

One of the happiest things in my life is having a son who is a big reader. If you’d asked me for a list of dream goals for my child, when I was pregnant, this would have been right up there at the top–along with a sense of humor (check) and enough height to get down the dishes on the next shelf, that one that I just can’t reach (check, check). Partially, I’m  happy for him, but honestly–there’s an element of selfishness in this, too. Finally, I have someone around all the time to talk about kids and YA books with! My husband reads, too, and we’re bringing him along on the you’re-not-too-old-for-this ride with authors like Eoin Colfer and JK Rowling, but he also spends a lot of time sharing gory, lost-on-the-mountaintop books with me, as well as those science articles about what my brain’s doing right now, thank you very much.  He also does read a lot of sci-fi and dystopian, which is probably my son’s favorite genre right now.

Anyway, my son is a big reader, but he doesn’t always jump right onto a new bandwagon–he does a lot of rereading, and he looks first for authors he knows and loves (Thank you, Sir Terry Pratchett, for being brilliant and prolific). He definitely responds to covers and to jacket blurbs. Or he doesn’t respond.

The bottom line is that, when I want him to try something new (one of those books that I’ve fallen in love with and want someone else to join me in fandom), I have to be a bit sneaky. I can’t just paraphrase the story as I see it, because we don’t latch onto the same things in that kind of a description. So I just share a few passages out loud, here and there, as I read the book–pieces I know he won’t be able to resist.

Here’s the one that caught him in Frances O’Roark Dowell’s Falling In:

     So, should you stop reading this book? I mean, you thought you were getting a witch, and so far all you’ve gotten is two girls and an old woman herb doctor. I don’t blame you for wanting your money back. Let’s march right back to the bookstore and demand–
    
Wait a minute.
    
I thought I saw something.
    
Yes, I’m pretty sure I saw something over–over–over–
    
There.
    
It’s a piece of paper falling out of a book.
    
I wonder what it says.

That’s it. Chapter end. Seriously, who could resist?

Not my son. He’s about halfway through the book and loving it–loving the language, loving Isabelle Bean, loving the way she spirals thoughts into imagery.

Personally, I think publishers should hire me to pick that line–that paragraph–the one that shows the story’s absolute irresistability, and they can print it right on the back cover. Okay, they can keep their paraphrase, too, but we know what will grab those readers. 🙂